Two Poems by Joan Martens

You’re driving the lifeless gray streets of L.A.,
used to the monotone of traffic, when
an interruption in concrete
makes you pull over.

Exploding trumpets of purple
fallen like a dropped skirt around the jacaranda
unexpectedly tell you
it is color you have been needing,
this May transfusion
pooling from a trunk
like an opened vein. Your eyes,
leaving and
coming back again
are intoxicated.

Not that long ago you wondered
if there would be another May,
the month of diagnosis
when cancer first burst inside you
like spring pollen, perhaps
carried by blood, to
seed in an organ, to
root in a bone, or
cut like a weed,
poisoned systemically
withered in the burning.

You stand in the purple pool,
pick up a tiny royal horn,
touch the limp skin of flower
soft as the inside of elbow
where butterfly needles,
delicately thin, once pierced,
probed hard, the scarred conduit walls
of collapsed veins for entry,
while you sat like an experiment
turning gray as the faces
of those initiated
to the Infusion Room
before you.
You place it on the dash of your car
to remember
the silent letting go.

Cause and Effect

I am twenty-three and smiling
in this picture.
It is moving-in day.
Behind me, an old country house,
white wood frame, neatly hemmed
by picket fence. My husband
frames the picture to show off to city families
the blooming orange, Queen Annes and Bings
that line the drive. On the back
I will write,
“We’ve gone back to the country!”

We signed the lease that morning,
the proud Armenian holding us with stories
about his homestead house
on ten acres of cling peaches,
about the days when orchards spread
“darn far as the eye could see”
across the flatland
of the Central Valley.

His crop dusters came the next morning
unannounced, before full light.
And though I quickly closed the house
each time the buzz and swoop began
that Spring,
the poison settled at sill level,
crept under the doors,
coated the chimney flue,
drifted up from the root cellar.

Rising from bed those hot, humid nights,
peeling off a damp nightgown,
I would throw open the windows
hoping for a breeze,
letting the acrid smell of malathion
blow freely through the house,
and pass naked to the kitchen,
to gulp glass
after glass
of contaminated well water.

Joan Martens